New year, new businesses

Now ‘great time’ for budding owners

Courtesy photo / Obehi Patterson of Scoop Commercial Cleaning LLC works in the cafeteria at Altoona Area High School.

The beginning of a new year is often a time when budding entrepreneurs look into starting their own business.

“Now is a great time to turn that passion into an ‘open for business’ sign as interest rates are low and support for small businesses is at an all-time high. This past Small Business Saturday, consumers spent $6 million more than the previous year. The U.S. Small Business Administration has a resource partner network providing entrepreneurs with the tools needed to open a business,” said Western Pennsylvania District Director Kelly Hunt.

Many potential business owners reach out to the SBA.

Last year, 3,835 individuals received free, confidential, one-on-one counseling at eight western Pennsylvania small business development centers, which cover 27 counties. The numbers have increased almost 30 percent from 2018, Hunt said.

“This can be attributed to an increased knowledge of SBA’s free services and loan programs, which are geared toward the small business community,” Hunt said.

Closer to home, the Saint Francis University Small Business Development Center was contacted by 345 people in 2019, either one-on-one or through one of their pre-business planning seminars, Director Jeffrey Boldizar said.

“The numbers have been pretty steady over the last three years. We cover a six-county area,” Boldizar said.

Obehi and Shawniece Patterson started their business, Scoop Commercial Cleaning LLC, in 2019 with the help of the SFU SBDC.

“They provided us with all the resources necessary to get everything we needed to get our business up and running, from writing our business plan to getting legal help from the Penn State law school and finding an office space. We rent out of the same building the ABCD Corp. is in, to an insurance agency. They also connected us with Janitor Supply for equipment,” Obehi Patterson said. “They also made the connection with the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission to obtain our minority paperwork. If it wasn’t for this program, we would have never been able to start our business properly or efficiently without their guidance or help.”

Those interested in starting a new business can visit coaches at a small business development center.

“They’ll provide an objective perspective of your business idea, taking a non-financial and non-emotional look and evaluating the business in terms of marketing, finance, management and overall business operations,” Hunt said.

“They’ll help you to make sure your business idea is a good business opportunity,” Hunt added.

Anyone interested in starting a business needs to do their research, said Dustin Ray, who leads business development and growth initiatives at Incfile, a national incorporation service company specializing in business formation and small business services.

“While doing your research is essential, your first and most important step should be to network. Successful small business owners didn’t get to where they are today by simply reading books. They sought out guidance from other successful entrepreneurs. Networking is the most effective way to make connections, seek support from experts and get referrals or leads,” Ray said.

You can’t neglect the financial end of running a business.

“There are some things you can’t neglect and need to monitor regularly, such as your finances. According to a U.S. Bank study, 82 percent of small businesses fail due to poor cash flow management,” Ray said. “As a small business owner, consider switching to digital business banking. Not only will you have every tool you need to keep your finances in check, but you can consider waiting in line at the bank a thing of the past.”

“Once you have decided you want to start your own business for sure, save as much money as you can because you want to start your business with your own money and not take out any loans if possible. That’s what we did and we own 100 percent of our company and don’t have to worry about if we don’t have money to repay it; that our business will not be collateral,” Obehi Patterson said.

Most people who fail don’t have the money they need to get started, Boldizar said.

“There is money to be had but you have to show you are knowledgeable and have put together a nice plan to show you know what you are talking about and doing. There is money there; we don’t lend it but we can point people to where there is money for their venture,” Boldizar said.

Technology can help

“In today’s market, digital technology helps business owners achieve more while doing less. You must embrace the benefits and splurge a little. In the end, investing in the best and latest technology will keep your employees engaged, improve productivity, increase communication and improve overall client experience,” Ray said.

Reviews beneficial

“When it comes to attracting new customers and reaching a larger audience, developing an online presence is crucial. If you’ve already developed your website, one small but important tip is to provide your customers with a user review platform that allows them to leave comments and rate their experience,” Ray said. “It’s important to understand that online reviews are necessary. They provide users a place to share their experiences, both good and bad, which in turn creates a positive online presence for your brand.”

Use social media

“Make sure you are utilizing your main marketing hub — social media. This is just another way for you to build your brand awareness and connect with your customers. According to a survey done by eMarketer, customers spend 20 to 40 percent more on products and services by companies that engage with them on social media. Use these free tools to help launch a new product or promote a discount,” Ray said.

“Social media is here to stay and for many businesses the adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ holds true for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Sharing, liking and retweeting images certainly can increase a small business’ footprint and the best part about social media platforms — it’s free advertising and really doesn’t take much time to learn the nuts and bolts,” Hunt said.

Boldizar agrees that use of social media is important.

“It can help get the word out without much cost. You can reach hundreds or thousands of people. The danger of that is some people believe they don’t need to use any other form of advertising, such as the newspaper,” Boldizar said. “At some point, if you are going to succeed you need to put some dollars into advertising. It (social media) has changed the way people think and market their business.”

Hire the right people

“You most certainly want to hire persons that share your passion and enthusiasm for your product or service. In addition to skill sets necessary to operate your business, you’ll want them to have an expertise that complement your talents,” Hunt said.

“Your team, the people you will work with every day, will be the foundation of your business. With that said, it’s crucial that you lean on the numerous online resources you have at your disposal,” Ray said.

Some new business owners make mistakes in hiring.

“The best advice is not to hire cheap — pay more than minimum wage. The labor market is now more of an employees’ market than an employers market. In some cases, you are better off if you pay people a higher wage who have better skills. You want to bring in people who have the skills you need. Don’t always look for the cheapest way out,” Boldizar said.

And once you hire people, it is important to try and keep them happy.

“Companies are finding new and innovative ways to keep their best employees happy while also grabbing the attention of potential external candidates. Working remotely is a popular incentive many companies are offering as it creates that work-life balance culture people are on the hunt for. Trusting your employees and allowing them to create their own schedule has been shown to increase productivity,” Ray said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.